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South Medford's football season ended a year ago in Lake Oswego and the Panthers will be out to not let that happen again tonight when they open the Class 6A state playoffs at Lakeridge High.
That task won't be an easy one, however, for a South Medford program that has earned at least one playoff victory in five of the last six seasons.
Lakeridge junior Eric Dungey ranks 10th in the state with 2,245 passing yards after completing 167 of 257 attempts for 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder is extremely athletic and has also run 96 times for 546 yards and seven TDs.
"They have a potent offense, there's no question they're pretty explosive," said South Medford head coach Bill Singler, who has now guided the Panthers to the state playoffs in 11 of the past 12 years. "Dungey's a very capable quarterback and one of the top quarterbacks in the state. He's a dual-threat quarterback who can run and throw, so that presents a lot of problems in itself."
Dungey's top target has been senior J.R. McLaughlin (6-2, 195), who leads the state in receiving yards (1,054) on 53 receptions with nine touchdowns, but 6-7 senior Joe Sindlinger (34 catches for 387 yards and six TDs) is another matchup nightmare on the perimeter.
Lakeridge, runner-up in the Three Rivers League, also has a battering ram option in the backfield in 6-1, 240-pound junior Lopeti Aisea, who has run for 628 yards and seven TDs on 79 carries and reminds Singler of former Panther Kevin Gilmore.
"They don't feature him that much but you have to pay attention to him," said Singler. "If he gets into attack running mode, he can cause lot of headaches."
The best antidote for the Pacers (7-2) may exist in South Medford's ball-control offense, where South Medford has racked up 321 yards per game thanks to the efforts of running backs Josh Hall and Anthony Gomez.
"There's no question you want to minimize their ball possession and keep the clock running," said Singler. "But defensively they've shown well and have some very physical kids up front that cause some problems."
Hall has stepped in to lead South Medford's ground game with 660 yards and three TDs on 125 carries, while Gomez is not far behind at 530 yards and nine TDs on 65 carries.
"I'm really proud of Josh, it's really been neat to see him step up like he has," Singler said of the junior. "He's just kind of a blue-collar running back. He doesn't say much or draw attention to himself, he just runs tough inside the tackles and gets yards for you because he's always going forward."
The ground game helps open things up for junior quarterback Craig Contreras, who has completed 80 of 166 passes for 1,240 yards, 12 TDs and five interceptions. Senior receiver Mark Winans has been key with nine of his 19 receptions going for scores after averaging 27.4 yards per catch, while sophomore Brady Breeze (17 catches for 230 yards) has added a boost since returning to the offense from a broken hand and takes pressure off senior receiver Josh Baugh (31 catches for 474 yards and three TDs).
South Medford lost 41-14 at Lake Oswego in last year's second round, while the Pacers haven't won a playoff game in eight years.
Veteran head coach Tom Smythe has said this will be his last season as head coach at Lakeridge after 49 seasons at the high school, college and professional levels. Smythe won big-school state titles at Lakeridge in 1987 and McNary in '97 and '01 and returned to the Pacers sideline in '09 after the school struggled to field a team.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry